By Ako Muhammed
At Tolaitala, a café in Damascus, Syria, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) became a Kurdish revolutionary name for the first time. To revive the Kurdish struggle against the Iraqi Baath system, President Jalal Talabani met with Dr. Fuad Masum, Abdul-Razaq Aziz, and Adil Murad to discuss the future of a nation, above and beyond drinking coffee.
The meeting, on May 22, 1975, resulted in the formation of PUK to gather Kurdish fighters, intellectuals, and political groups, said Murad in the memoir he wrote in 2005.
The meeting came exactly two months after the Aylul (September) Revolution, led by Mullah Mustafa Barzani, had to drop its weapons as a result of an Iraqi-Iranian deal. The Algiers Agreement of March 6, 1975, signed between Iraqi Vice President Saddam Hussein and Iran’s Shah Mohammed Riza Pahlavid, was made on the margins of an OPEC meeting in Algeria. The Algiers Agreement stipulated that Iran would stop supporting Iraqi Kurdish fighters and in return for Iraq capitulating some border disputes. This later brought the two countries into eight years of war.
Talabani, and the other leaders of Shoresh Gerran (Revolution Spreaders), soon received support from Komalay Ranjdaran (Toilers Association), led by Nawshirwan Mustafa. This gave strength to the alliance.
The café meeting was moved to Berlin, Germany and continued in late May, increasing PUK’s founding members to seven: Jalal Talabani, Nawshirwan Mustafa, Dr. Fuad Masum, Dr. Kamal Fuad, Dr. Omer Shekhmus, Abdul-Razaq Aziz, and Adil Murad.
The foundation was declared on Syrian radio on June 1 as the founding members returned to Damascus. Talabani was elected to be PUK spokesman as well as taking the responsibility for covert activities. Talabani also became the ideological leader of the new coalition. Mustafa quit his Ph.D. studies in Vienna that year, and became leader of militant activities from headquarters near the Iraqi-Syrian border. Media affairs were under Masum, who also published “Sharara” newspaper in Damascus. Murad became chief of public relations.
Along with the announcement, several former fighters, leaders, and groups who had been in Iran, returned to resume the struggle. A prominent group was the Kurdistan Social Democratic Movement (KSDM) which joined PUK with an effective group of leaders including Salih Yusifi, Ali Askari, Rasul Mamand, Ali Hazhar, Omer Dababa, and others.
Following a year of political activities, PUK launched an armed struggle.
“We in the PUK believed that our goals can be achieved only through peaceful political struggle. But the increase of bloody violence of (Iraqi) racist system forced us into adopting an armed struggle,” said Murad. This new stage started in early June 1976 when Captain Ibrahim Azo, along with 38 fighters, crossed the Syrian border to conduct limited activities inside Kurdistan.
In addition to the formation of PUK, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) also resumed its struggle with a new leadership known as the Qiaday Muwaqata (Temporary Leadership), which was run by Massoud Barzani, Idris Barzani, and Sami Abdul-Rahman.
The two parties, each striving to lead the new revolution, were against each other several times. Nine months of conflict ended as a result of a meeting between KDP leader Massoud Barzani and PUK’s Talabani in Damascus. The meeting, on March 1, 1977, resulted in an agreement to end the conflict for a few months.
The differences between the two Kurdish parties grew when each affiliated with separate Iraqi opposition groups in the 1980s. The KDP joined the Iraqi Democratic National Front (JUD) along with the Iraqi Communist Party, and Kurdistan Socialist Party. The PUK became a part of the Iraqi National and Nationalist Democratic Front (JUQD) with the Baath Party (the wing loyal to Syria), Arabic Socialist Movement, and some nationalist figures.
The PUK entered negotiations with the Baghdad government in 1984, but the negotiations ended without an agreement.
In October 1987, the two parties singed a reconciliation pact in a meeting in Tehran between Talabani and Idris Barzani. After the Kurdish people were exposed to the chemical bombardment genocide campaigns of Anfal and Halabja, PUK, KDP, Kurdistan Socialist Party, and some other groups realized the necessity of founding Baray Kurdistani (Kurdistan Front).
In 1991, PUK, along with other Kurdish parties, played a major role in liberating Iraqi Kurdistan territories, which later gave the region a semi-autonomous state. In February 1992, PUK held its first conference, recognizing the alliance with its various factions as a united party. Talabani became secretary general of PUK. Muftafa, who led the Komalay Ranjdaran, the militant wing of the alliance, was named deputy secretary general. After the conference, PUK, which was once inspired by the Chinese style of Marxism, declared a Social-Democratic ideology as its identity and affiliation.
Following the May 1992 Kurdistan Region parliamentary elections, PUK and KDP formed the first ever regional parliament and government. PUK’s Masum formed the cabinet, while KDP’s Jawher Namiq, who has since resigned, became speaker of the parliament. Because of a belief that PUK should have become the opposition in parliament, leaving the KDP to run the government, disputes between Talabani and his deputy Mustafa erupted. Following that dispute Mustafa left Kurdistan for London. Mustafa remained in Europe, spending his time writing history and memoirs. He returned to the region in 1994, when the allied parties had already launched civil war.
Ceasefire was declared in 1998 following a meeting in Washington, which gathered Talabani and Barzani together with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
During those years, PUK was running the Suleimaniya administration of the Kurdistan Regional Government in its territories of Suleimaniya and Germiyan Area. KDP did the same for Erbil and Duhok. Kosrat Rasul Ali, Barham Salih, and Omer Fatah consequently ran the Suleimaniya administration. The two parties once again unified the parliament in 2002 and formed a united government in 2006. The alliance between the two major parties was fortified with a strategic agreement, which helped them run for Iraqi and Kurdistan elections together, on one ticket.
On December 2006, Mustafa resigned as deputy secretary general and established a media foundation under the name of Wusha (word) in March, 2007. He and four politburo members pulled out from the party and participated in the Kurdistan Region parliamentary elections in 2009 on the Gorran (Change) ticket, winning nearly a quarter of its seats. This development cost PUK, and is one of the reasons the party pushed to hasten holding its third conference on its 35th anniversary.